Written by Derek Duncan
Romans 14:19: “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
The U.S. just celebrated its Independence Day. In Korea August 15th is celebrated as Liberation Day, the date of Korea’s Liberation from Japanese colonization at the end of World War II. It’s a date marked by both South Korea and North Korea, as many regard the two states as one country whose shared history and future are but momentarily, if tragically, divided by the circumstances of war and politics.
The decades following Korea's liberation in 1945 have been shaped by tragedy and conflict. After World War II the Korean Peninsula was immediately split into two by the U.S. and USSR. The division precipitated the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, a conflict which resulted in the death of 2.5 million soldiers (U.S., Chinese, North and South Korean). In addition 3.5 million civilians were killed, while another 3 million became refugees and thousands of families were separated by the demarcation of North and South Korea along the 38th parallel.
A final peace treaty has never been reached to bring closure to the Korean War, despite the end of the Cold War and 60 years of ceasefire. The Korean land and people remain divided, despite official support for reunification by North Korea, South Korea, and the U.S.
The Korean Peninsula continues to be one of the most militarized and volatile places in the world. Nearly 30,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, where they participate in annual war-games with Korean troops in a display of battle-readiness to counter North Korea’s periodic missile launches and nuclear tests. The people of Korea, the region, and the world are significantly threatened by this high-stakes brinksmanship.
As people of faith, why should we care?
In 2013 in Busan, South Korea the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches called upon the churches of the world “to pursue a lasting and sustainable peace with justice that will reunify and reconcile the people of Korea.” Our partner, the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK), has asked the UCC to join in its efforts to end the division and hostilities that persist on the Korean Peninsula. Knowing that the U.S. can play a pivotal role in pursuing peace in the region, our partners urge us to help advocate for a new direction in U.S. policy toward North and South Korea. Advocacy is all the more urgent as generations are beginning to pass away without ever learning the fate of loved ones separated across the border.
In 2015, on the 70th Anniversary of Korea’s liberation, the United Church of Christ passed a resolution “A Call for Peace, Justice and Reunification in the Korean Peninsula.” In it the UCC committed to push the “U.S. government and international community [to] commence a new process of peace-building across the Korean peninsula, that includes a commitment by all parties to replace the Armistice Agreement of 1953 with a permanent peace treaty, finally bringing an end to the state of war; and a mutual commitment to end provocative military exercises on the peninsula, to reduce military expenditures, and to eliminate nuclear weapons on the peninsula, establishing a model for peace and demilitarization in Northeast Asia[.]”
What can be done?
Recent reversals in U.S. policy on Cuba and Iran demonstrate that transformations of long-entrenched adversarial relationships are possible. Rather than sending more arms to the region, and dismissive arms-length diplomacy, after more than 60 years it is finally time for the U.S. to replace the Korean War Armistice Agreement with a formal peace treaty. This would serve as the first good-faith step along the difficult and deliberate path of negotiations and reunification. You can support a new direction in U.S. Korea policy by signing a Change.org Petition to President Obama and Congress to enter negotiations for a Korean peace treaty to replace the Armistice Agreement . Signatures will be collected all month, and then on July 27, the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice Agreement, a delegation of Korean and U.S. church leaders will deliver the petition to U.S. leaders in Washington, DC.
Join our Korean partners in the Global Campaign for a Korea Peace Treaty. Sign the petition to support this effort to bring peace and healing to the legacy of division and conflict that remains on the Korean peninsula.